Spring breakers are notorious for getting drunk and hooking up with strangers, which is totally fine by me just as long as we talk about how to practice safe sex during spring break first. Beyond just the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection or getting pregnant, spring break sex also brings up issues like being sober enough to give consent as well as being sober enough to ask for consent. The drinks at the bar might be up for grabs but people most definitely are not.
Like you would at any other time of the year, you should always practice safe sex while on spring break. Unlike most other times of the year though, you'll probably be making most of your decisions while slightly inebriated. In fact, even without alcohol, your inhibitions are likely to be lower while on spring break because everyone around you is having such a good time. The music, the ocean, the freedom from school and your parents — it's enough to make you go wild for a couple days.
I'm not here to ruin your fun but I am here to remind you that according to the CDC, sexually active people between the ages of 15 and 24 face a higher risk of contracting STIs based on a combination of behavioral, biological, and cultural reasons. Additionally, one in four sexually active adolescent women has an STI, including chlamydia or human papilloma virus (HPV).
Additionally, reports by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism claim 97,000 college students experience alcohol-related sexual assaults each year. And that's just the reported cases (the majority of survivors do not report their assaults).
So you get why it's important to be extra safe.
I spoke with Kristin Marie Bennion, certified sex therapist, and Dr. Leah Millheiser, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of Stanford's Female Sexual Medicine Program, about how you can be safe this spring break.
Here's how they answered some of the most pressing questions surrounding this issue.
What safety precautions should you take if you decide to leave the bar with someone you've just met?
Bennion notes, "There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to safety when engaging in sexual contact with another person — not just risk of STIs or pregnancy." More often than not, the people you interact with on spring break are basically strangers so, you know, the whole stranger danger thing should be in effect here.
Instead of running away screaming from every cute guy or girl that approaches you, Bennion recommends keeping the safety tips below in mind.
- Before leaving for your trip, download an app like Find My Friends or Life360 that allows you and your friends to keep track of each other's whereabouts at all times. This way, you can check in with your friends to see if they are where they said they would be and they can do the same for you.
- Be mindful of your alcohol intake. Bennion warns, "While it is important to remember that it is never [!] someone's fault if they experience an assault, it's no secret that alcohol decreases inhibitions and can lead to forgetting to cover certain bases for keeping safe."
- Always keep an extra battery pack or charger handy for your phone, for obvious reasons.
- Bring your own medication along on the trip so you are prepared for any mishaps and know exactly what you are consuming.
- And lastly, "If you ever feel uncomfortable, it's always OK to leave," she says. "You don't need an excuse. Just go."
How do you know if you're able to give consent?
Consent is sexy. Consent is sexy. Consent is sexy.
Chant this obnoxiously with your friends on your flight over there if you have to. Before engaging in any sexual activity, you should give your verbal consent to do so and allow your partner to do the same. But remember that there is such a thing as being too drunk to consent for both you and your partner.
When it comes to your own ability to give consent, Dr. Millheiser says, "Every woman has their own threshold of when she's able to agree to a sexual act." Although moderate alcohol consumption does not entirely inhibit your ability to give consent, it can still impair your judgment.
Sadly, she adds, "A lot of times, women will be so inebriated that they think, in the moment, they are able to give consent but then the next day they don't remember." That's why it's always safer to have a friend around, like you did when you went on field trips in elementary school and were assigned a buddy. If you plan on drinking or using recreational drugs, make sure that you are with a reliable friend who is sober. That way, they can stop you from agreeing to anything that seems inappropriate or risky.
There's a good chance that on spring break, all your friends are drunk, which is why Dr. Millheiser says it's also a good idea to make a deal with yourself, like "I'm only going to have this number of drinks. I'm going to get buzzed but I'm not going to allow myself to go over the edge."
If you don't think you're sober enough to drive or walk home alone, you're probably not sober enough to give consent. As a comparison, you are legally allowed to drive if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is less than 0.08 percent, which works out to about two drinks for a woman who weighs 120 pounds according to most BAC charts.
You can also download apps like iDrinkSmarter, which will allow you to track your alcohol consumption (and your friends' using the Buddy BAC feature) and send you safety alerts based on your weight, hours spent drinking, and number of drinks consumed. The app also allows you to set a drinking limit for yourself and to gauge when you are in the Green Zone. According to the app, you experience positively stimulating effects of alcohol when your BAC is below 0.06 percent (within the Green Zone) but begin to react negatively (have impaired judgment, drowsiness, or severe hangovers) once you exceed this.
The goal here is to never be in a situation where you are completely unaware of your surroundings and your actions, or the actions of others.
If you are on the Pill but will be traveling to a different time zone, when should you take it?
Luckily, Dr. Millheiser points out that taking your pill at the same time every day isn't as important as you might think. "The only time it's incredibly important to take your pill at the same time every day is if you're taking a progesterone-only [also known as the mini-pill] birth control pill. If that's the case and you normally take your pill at six in the morning on the West Coast, if you travel to the East Coast you will be taking it at nine in the morning." She adds that "with a combined estrogen and progesterone pill, it doesn't make a difference."
If you're uncertain, ask your doctor what type of birth control pill you're on and how you should be taking it to avoid any complications. Bennion explains, "People often don't know that the reason oral contraceptives are seen as slightly less effective as other contraceptives (for example, an IUD) is because of user error. The reality is, humans tend to forget things here and there!" If you've chosen oral contraceptives as your birth control method, be responsible about it.
What is the most effective way to prevent STIs?
According to Bennion, "Sadly, the only way to guarantee prevention of sexually transmitted infections is to avoid engaging in partnered sexual activity." So Coach Carr from Mean Girls was sort of right, I guess. Bennion adds though, "Just because there is inherent risk in any sexual activity with another person doesn't mean there aren't safer sex practices. The most effective form of prevention is to use a condom for penetration of any kind and a dental dam for [receiving] oral sex."
It's also a good idea to ask when last your partner was tested. Bennion says rightfully, "I know this can be a really difficult question for some because a lot of people don't want to insult the other person or, perhaps, ruin the mood. But the thing is, sexy moods can easily come back and at the end of the day, people respect that you care about the safety of your body. Obviously, you are respecting theirs, as well!" In this case, it's 100 percent better to be safe than sorry.
If contracting an STI is a concern, how soon after spring break can you get tested?
According to Bennion, "Results can come back as soon as two weeks since exposure to unprotected sexual contact for some STIs and up to three months for others." But you should definitely get tested after your spring break trip if you engaged in sexual activity. If you have any questions or concerns about getting tested, you can always consult your campus clinic or your local Planned Parenthood.
As best as possible, take precautions to ensure that you get home safely from spring break and that the only thing you bring back is the sand at the bottom of your beach bag.
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